In 1970, an Australian university student scribbled A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle on two bathroom walls—one at a bar, the other at her university. She was paraphrasing a line from one of her philosophy texts—“a man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle”—and having a bit of fun. “My inspiration arose from being involved in the renascent women’s movement at the time, and from being a bit of a smart-arse,” wrote Irina Dunn, who later became a member of the Australian Senate.
Ever since then, Dunn’s moment of cheeky rebellion has been Exhibit A in countless attempts to explain why smart, independent women are so hopeless at relationships. (The phrase is often falsely attributed to Gloria Steinem, who has corrected the error several times.) Like “Free to Be You and Me” and bra burning (which never actually happened, but whatever), the bicycle-riding fish makes a handy cultural shorthand to explain how feminism has messed up women’s love lives.